Story Chat is a place on Marsha Ingrao’s blog–Always Write–where a different author every month shares their short story. Readers come together for that month to chat about the story.
As it’s impossible to include every detail in a short story, readers have to use their imaginations to fill in the gaps. This is an enjoyable part of Story Chat, reading the different opinions and insights. Everyone has a different idea of the backstory and of what happens after ‘the end’.
Story Chat is also a great way of receiving feedback. Reading the feedback on other people’s stories can also help us improve our own creations.
I was thrilled to have my short story, Backstab, featured on Story Chat for the month of August. It was lovely to have that sort of engagement and to receive some great comments from the readers.
My 100th post of our #100DaysOfOldDays project, is a little different to the others. This is a piece of fiction that gives an insight into some of the characters in my novel, Secrets in the Babby House, which I plan to publish later this year.
The story is set in Bailieborough, Co. Cavan and it spans over three decades; from the mid-fifties to the mid-seventies. You might recognise some faces in the photos, but these characters are completely fictional. Thank you to my very good friends Roisin, Jackie and Roza who came for “Tea With Ruth O’Malley”.
Ruth In the upstairs living quarters of a drapery shop in Bailieborough, Ruth O’Malley was preparing tea for her best friend—and fellow devotee of the Legion of Mary—Goretti Lynch. Goretti and her daughter Flossie often went to Ruth’s for evening tea.
As Ruth shelled hard boiled eggs, she pondered over the prospect of her only son John, marrying Flossie. Not just any girl would suit her John. The Legion of Mary women referred to John as the most desirable bachelor in town. Eligible, they said he was. Flossie was a quiet respectable girl with no intentions of gallivanting the world, like some people. She and John were still fairly shy in each other’s company but Ruth knew it was only a matter of time before they would begin a courtship.
She dressed the eggs with dollops of salad cream and a good sprinkling of parsley. She stood back and admired her spread. She had paid extra attention this evening because Goretti’s sister-in-law Bridgey, was coming too. (Extra sherry in the trifle.)
Goretti Goretti Lynch wished she could be more like her friend Ruth; popular, stylish, confident. And well-off! Goretti’s late husband Eddie, was a good man of course, and had provided well for his family so she shouldn’t complain. They did well bringing up their three children; Danny the priest, Catherine the nun and Flossie the soon-to-be school teacher. And if Goretti’s prayers were answered, soon-to-be wife of John O’Malley—the Catch of the Parish!
Goretti repeatedly praised her daughter’s talents in front of Ruth and Frederick and it was paying off. My John would be very lucky if he were to marry a girl like your Flossie, is what Ruth said one evening in Molly Fagin’s house. And she could tell that Flossie was growing more attached to John; that wistful and desirous look in her eyes lately. A courtship was on the horizon for sure.
Bridgey Bridgey Lynch wasn’t the type of woman to be ungrateful towards others. But Ruth O’Malley irritated the hell out of her. The woman talked far too much—about herself and everyone else. Bridgey no longer considered herself a country woman. After thirty years of living in Dublin, her natural affinity for Bailieborough had greatly diminished, just like her tolerance for meddlesome people. The long bumpy bus journeys to the rural town where she grew up were for the sake of Flossie. It was her job as her aunt to make sure she didn’t get bullied into a life she might regret—like Catherine and Danny. Bridgey was in the humour for a good big glass of sherry (or two).
Flossie Flossie Lynch walked a few steps behind her mother and her auntie Bridgey as they headed across The Green towards Main Street. She was relieved when Mrs O’Malley told them earlier that unfortunately John and his father would be out for the evening and they’d be having tea without them.
Flossie was quite certain she’d cope for the evening without John staring at her through his thick glasses and suffocating her with his mothball odour. They had absolutely nothing in common and she had no doubt that he found her just as boring as she found him. Flossie’s belly rumbled. At least Mrs O’Malley always served up delicious food…the only reason she liked going there.
Teatime Bridgey brought a big box of Lyons tea and cinnamon biscuits with her. And two bottles of French red wine. Ruth liked to see Bridgey having a wee drinkie, presuming that the only time she could be herself was when she back in her hometown. She’ll probably retire in Bailieborough when the time comes, thought Ruth.
Flossie brought Flowers and Goretti brought her usual homemade apple tart. ‘I’ll put them into the vase you bought me for my birthday,’ purred Ruth as Flossie handed her the bouquet of chrysanthemums and gerberas. Ruth knew rightly that it was Goretti who bought the vase and it was probably Goretti who bought the flowers too.
Then Ruth noticed the slit up the side of Flossie’s pencil skirt. ‘That’s hardly a skirt you’d wear to work Flossie.’ Goretti sniffed sharply and looked sideways at Bridgey. Flossie flushed slightly and glanced up at St. Therese hanging on the wall. ‘It’s not for wearing to work Mrs O’Malley. Auntie Bridgey gave it to me.’ ‘What’s wrong with it?’ Bridgey snapped.
Ruth scrunched up her face. ‘The big slit up the side.’ ‘She’s not a child anymore. And it’s only a wee slit. ’ Ruth handed Flossie a glass of red lemonade. ‘Is that what they’re wearing up in Dublin?’ Bridgey didn’t answer.
‘Auntie Bridgey said I can have sherry seeing as I’m not a child anymore. I’m eighteen now.’ ‘What do you think of that Goretti?’ asked Ruth. ‘Ah Ruth, a wee sherry will be fine.’ ‘Well, you may drink that lemonade first,’ said Ruth.
Flossie liked her auntie Bridgey. She was different than her mother and Mrs O’Malley. They have small minds, Bridgey once said. And Bridgey also said that Flossie could go to Dublin and live with her if she wanted—as soon as she was eighteen.
After what Flossie heard about Frank Connolly she might just do that. Get away from this place and everyone in it. Then she wouldn’t have to think about him…and Alice.
Goretti and Ruth drank wine at the table. Auntie Bridgey drank more sherry—more than Flossie had ever seen her drinking. Flossie didn’t care much for it at all and just had tea. ‘Did you hear about the young Connolly lad?’ Ruth began. Bridgey helped herself to a serving of sherry trifle. ‘I hope you’ve plenty of flavouring in this Ruth.’ ‘Just for you Bridgey…plenty of it.’
‘What about the Connolly lad?’ Goretti probed. ‘Well, he’s got himself involved with that Ward lassie from the mountain and…’ Bridgey interrupted again. ‘I was saying to Flossie here that she should come to Dublin and study teaching…get the right qualifications.’ Goretti turned her attention from the gossip to her daughter. ‘Qualifications? You can’t do that. Sure isn’t Miss Kennedy teaching you all you need to know!’
‘I’d die if my John talked about moving away from home,’ Ruth sighed. ‘Flossie won’t be going anywhere and that’s final.’ Goretti poured herself more wine. ‘Come out to the good room Goretti and I’ll tell you what Molly Fagin told me yesterday.’ Ruth guided her friend out to the sitting room.
Bridgey smiled sympathetically at Flossie. ‘I’ll talk to her tomorrow. Tonight wasn’t the right time.’
A different plan formed in Flossie’s head. She looked at the framed portrait of John that hung on the wall below his parents’ wedding photo. Maybe she should get to know him a bit better after all.
If there’s one thing I feel that children of the digital age have really missed out on; it’s the practice of writing letters to friends and pen pals. Paper and ink letters! Some kids do I’m sure, but it’s uncommon. It was lovely to see Little Miss Ten and her friends giving it a go during lockdown
Today, we can communicate with people all over the world, video chat and all that. It’s great, yes it is, but it’s absolutely not the same thing as handwriting a letter. Some people might disagree with me—like my husband who hates writing—but I rank letter writing way above texting or phoning someone.
I came across a bag of my old letters this morning. I spent a couple of hours looking through them. Laughing at some, as they brought back memories of fun times. No way would you ever get the same pleasure from scrolling through a friend’s social media posts, or the WhatsApp group.
A letter was personal. It was written just for you. While a social media post can bring back memories, it wasn’t written especially for you.
The first letter I wrote was in 1978. I was going on eleven. I said to my Dad, I want to write a letter to someone. Who can I write to? He told me to write to my cousin Louise who lived in England. We were the same age and he figured we’d have lots to write about. He was right about that. We got to know each other through our letters, and became close friends and faithful cousins because of it.
Many of the letters from Louise came from Bahrain when she was a cabin crew member for Gulf Air. A lot of the time her letters were written on hotel room writing paper.
Then she worked for British Airways and travelled the world. She had so many adventures that she shared with me in her letters. I envied her life. But I loved her more than I envied her. Still do!
Alas, the letters dwindled as technology took over until eventually we wrote no more. Nowadays we communicate via WhatsApp and Facebook. All of which has many advantages too—I’m not complaining!
I have letters here from pen pals from Singapore, New Zealand, Wisconsin, UK, Scotland, Donegal and Belfast. All very polite and innocent, filled with news of school and holiday adventures.
I’ve letters from friends who had lived abroad at the time, some who still do.
Reading through some of these letters has given me such a laugh, and heart-warming memories. They’re filled with all sorts of fun and devilment. Because we knew each other inside out, our writing knew no filters.
Without mentioning any names.
One particular friend wrote me all about her bad day and the job interview she HAD to get to.
It was 1989 and as she was getting ready to go for her interview, she realised that her new tights were not tights at all; they were stockings. Now an Irish girl from the country who had just arrived in London had yet to build up the courage to go shopping for lingerie. It was a rare thing for a lass from rural Ireland to own a pair of suspender belts back then. But she always carried safety pins!
She had no choice but to pin the stockings to her undies.
As she walked to the train station, her undies kept falling down and she had to keep pulling them up.
At the train station there was no one selling tickets and she got more stressed. She decided to risk getting on the train without a ticket and hoped the inspector wouldn’t catch her. She had a job interview to attend!
As she was getting onto the train, her shoe came off and fell onto the tracks, so she had to jump off again. When the train pulled away she jumped down to retrieve her shoe, praying that as she bent down, no one would notice the stockings pinned to her underwear. Needless to say she didn’t make the interview. But she got to go to an Elton John concert in Wembley and I was very jealous!
Another friend wrote that she heard Bridie had a new fella. She had only one question—“Does he have a car?”
One friend didn’t date her letter, but she did put, ‘Tuesday evening at 7.00 O’Clock.’
After four lines she wrote, ‘I’m finishing for a minute because Eastenders has just started.’
Then she comes back with, ‘Well, I didn’t think much of that.’
Then there’s the friend who told me in secret that she had moved into a flat with her boyfriend. I wasn’t to dare tell anyone. That was in 1985 and living with your boyfriend was frowned upon. (It might even have been a sin.)
Another friend wrote as she sat in hospital waiting on her maternity check-up. I got told about the urine sample she was about to give, and the blood sample. Buying the very basics for the baby, a Moses basket for it to sleep in, and the price of a brand new buggy in Mothercare—£129.
How times have changed!
£100 per week to rent a flat in London, but they got one cheaper and nicer for £60.
Bought a peach suede puffball skirt (with studs in it) and a jacket to match for a wedding. All for £21.
Boyfriend is buying me a gold bracelet and taking me to a posh restaurant for my birthday (but he doesn’t know it yet)
One friend—the one who was crazy—told me she was joining the Police. Well that didn’t happen!
My friend in New York wrote about all the people from home who she met up with. Her job as a waitress, her boss who was fond of the drink, and his nosey wife who asked questions a feckin Guard wouldn’t ask ya. She lives in a three-bedroom apartment with eight other people. Bodies everywhere, she said.
The crazy friend who thought she’d get into the Police fell down the stairs at a house party and was in agony for days afterwards, but thought it was great craic altogether. And she met two old school friends in a pub in Ealing and they were wearing their wellies.
‘Remember the time we drank the poitín,’ she reminded me. Then she wrote, ‘If you see Sister Patricia, tellher I was asking for her.’ No doubt Sister Patricia missed her so much and cried her eyes out when she left town. Mmm…..
He walks our hay meadow often, with his camera, binoculars and a lunch box. He crosses the stile, then stops to smell the honeysuckle. He closes his eyes as he inhales the sweet pungent fragrance that emanates from the pale yellow tubular flowers. He’s appreciative of the natural things in life, I imagine.
He whispers to the birds and the bees as he rambles through the wild rebellious grass. Sometimes he lies among the buttercups to stare at the sky, photographing the clouds or a passing jet. Then he sits in the shade for a while, eating his lunch.
He wears a silly hat when it rains and a different silly hat when the sun shines. Perhaps he comes here because it’s peaceful and serene—most of the time. Sometimes the thrashing of farm machinery in the distance disturbs the serenity, and Farmer Tom’s noisy old tractor passes by now and then.
He caught me watching him one day and I fled to the old farmhouse that is my home. I hoped he wouldn’t follow me; yet I didn’t feel afraid…only shy. He seems a kind gentleman, not likely to cause me any harm—like some of the others.
He didn’t follow me but he came back the next morning and I watched him again; out of sight, shielded by the foliage of the hedgerow. Red Fox slinked through the meadow and the man took lots of pictures of him. That made him happier than the time he got a shot of the melodious Blackcap warbler. I wondered if he’d like to take pictures of me. If that might make him happy. I know he’s aware of my presence.
The noisy machinery will soon make its way to this uncut meadow and he might not come back here after that. It’s time to give him what I know he wants, even though I know that when I do, I won’t see him again. But that’s okay because I too will soon leave the meadow, and my adoptive parents.
I called out to him. He looked all around. I called again, teasing him. He took off his silly sun hat and craned his neck, as if pushing his ears forward so they could hear me more clearly. A funny little man indeed. He stood in the middle of the meadow peering through his binoculars.
Then I showed myself…in all my glory. ‘Cuckoo’, I sang. ‘Cuckoo.’ I perched on Farmer Tom’s rusty gate and dared him to come closer. He did, very slowly, with his mouth open and his eyes as bright as stars. His got down on his knees and positioned his camera.
I ruffled my grey barred feathers and opened my pointy wings. I gave him more time than any bird ever did, I guessed. But I think he deserved my attention, and I trust that his rendition of how he captured the rare cuckoo in the lens of his camera, will glorify his ego—and mine!
People are shuffling in their seats, reaching for their bags as the bus slows down. I press the backs of my legs against my small suitcase. My sweaty palms begin to itch and I rub them against my jeans. We’re here. My heart pounds like it’s trying to escape from my chest. The pit of my stomach feels like it’s filled with hot ash.
‘Follow your heart,’ my mother once said. ‘Do what your gut tells you.’
I thought that’s what I was doing. But now I’m not so sure.
Plane engines rumble overhead, filled with passengers heading to faraway places. I wonder how many of them are embarking on new adventures. If they will return, or if they’ll never be seen again.
A man wearing a brown overcoat meets my eye and he smiles. He reminds me of my father; he has kind eyes, and wavy hair that my mother would say, needs a good cut. I wonder where he’s going and if he has a teenage daughter like me. If she has a boyfriend. A real one and not just one from the internet—like me.
The bus comes to a halt. It goes no further than the airport. The last stop. I feel glued to the seat. His photo flashes through my mind. The most gorgeous boy I’ve ever seen. And now I’m about to meet him in real life and we’re going to do so many wonderful things together. I wish now that I had told my parents about him, but he said they wouldn’t approve. I told him he was right; they never let me do anything!
I should get off. He’ll be wondering where I am. I’ve never been on a plane before. What if I don’t like it? Or…what if I don’t want all the things he promised me? The lifestyle that people my age can only dream about, he said. Beautiful clothes and fine food in a city that never sleeps. What does that mean anyway? I want to sleep—a lot. I like my clothes; my ripped jeans and tie-dye shirts. I like my mother’s cooking and my father’s fried eggs are the best ever.
Everyone is off the bus except me. I’m alone and I’m scared now. My heart is telling me to run so fast from this airport. My gut is a mini volcano wanting to explode. I want to go home. Back to my parents and my annoying little brother.
The man in the brown coat is talking to the bus driver outside. They’re looking at me. I’ll be told to get off now. The man is leaving. The bus driver steps up into the bus.
‘Are you alright?’ he asked.
‘I want to go home.’ My face is wet; my tears have escaped. I wanted to be a grown-up but I’m still a child who cries for her parents. They will probably kill me when I get home but I don’t care.
This week the #SoCS prompt is as follows; “inspire/aspire/expire.” Use them in any form you like. Use one, use two or use them all if you want. If you use two, you get bonus points! If you use all three, Cheryl will put your next drink on David’s tab. Enjoy!
It would be nice if we could all inspire and encourage each other. What we give out to others we get back in return—so they say. (‘They’ are always right) So let’s all aspire to be the greatest we can be. Don’t dilly dally because you never know when your time here is about to expire!